James A. Ennis, 1901-83, Solicitor, County Registrar and founder member of the first Offaly Historical Society in 1937-8. By Valerie Ennis

James A. Ennis was born in 1901 at Rhode, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, the fourth of six children of parents, James and Sarah (Grogan) Ennis, Shopkeeper, Merchant, Publican and Farmer, Offaly County Council representative.

The Ennis siblings were Patrick (later York, USA), Michael (Clonmeen) Rhode, James A. (Tullamore) Mary, Catherine, and Rose (nee Stephenson). The girls all lived their lives in Rhode as did Michael. All were educated in Rhode national school but James Anthony was sent to Mount Saint Joseph’s College in Roscrea where he received his secondary education completing his leaving cert in 1920.

Below a First Communion in Rhode where James A. Ennis would have had his early schooling.

Rhode church communion 1900s (1)

James Anthony went to University College Dublin to study law, received a distinction in his studies and trained as an apprentice solicitor with F. B. O`Toole (solicitor) in Edenderry. He qualified in 1924 and in 1926 went to Tullamore where he joined James Rogers of Rogers & Co. Solicitors, and became a partner. Mr Rogers was appointed County Registrar immediately and left the practice to James who managed the practice until Mr Rogers returned after he retired in 1943.

c (50) Opening of the reconstructed courthouse in 1927. James A. Ennis is in the back row.

In 1927 James attended the opening of the newly rebuilt courthouse at Tullamore where sixteen years later he was employed as County Registrar. In 1928 he was initiated into the Knights of St. Columbanus in Edenderry (CK29), he transferred to Tullamore (CK83) where he now resided. He held various offices during his career up to Grand Knight and was a founder member of the first executive of the newly formed Area 11(Meath) where he took a position of Advocate, He became a loyal member of the order receiving the long service medal 1950, Honorary Life member 1974 and awarded the 50 year membership in 1979. He remained a member up to his death.

In 1932 he became a member of Tullamore Urban District Council and was elected chairman on two occasions. Like his father James A. was elected on to the county council on the Fianna Fáil ticket. Elected in the same year he held his position until 1939. During this period he became a close friend of Eamon de Valera and had brought him to Tullamore for a public meeting, entertained him in his house where he was to come on two other occasions during his election campaigning.

c (51)
Opening of O’Molloy Street in 1938. James A. Ennis is second from the right.

Also in 1932 he employed Margaret Gibbons a young solicitor and a first female solicitor in Co. Offaly in his practise. Ms Gibbons was one of a dozen female solicitors who had qualified in Ireland that year.

In 1938 he was a founder member and honorary president of Offaly Historical Society

James A. was a much travelled man taking holidays in and around the Mediterranean Sea. In 1936 while on holidays with his pal Kevin Adams in Spain they were extradited to France as aliens during the start of the Spanish civil War.

In 1939 he married Bernadette Rowan from Rochfortbridge Co. Westmeath. They went to Deauville in France on their honeymoon but after two days had to leave and return home as the Second World War was declared. During that year he had his own house on the Charleville road, built by John Duffy and called the house Deauville. He represented the urban council at the official opening of O`Molloy street new scheme of council houses by President Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh in the company of parish priest Monsignor James Flynn Tullamore, Tom Duggan County Engineer, John Duffy, builder contractor, and members of the Urban Council. Tullamore was thriving in that year with the opening of the outdoor swimming pool by the urban council on the Geashill Road and the new county hospital on the Arden Road very much in progress. In 1942 he was invited to become a board member of the Central Council of the Red Cross Society

056637 James Rogers Founder of Historical Society
James Rogers, possibly on the day of his second marriage in 1943-4.

In 1943 James A. Ennis was was appointed Offaly County Registrar to replace the retired James Rogers who returned to his practice, James Ennis carried out the duties of registrar with great pride. A fluent Irish speaker he enjoyed the courts which he attended around the county. His love of elections and as the director in Offaly he was always out early on polling day to visit as many polling booths as possible within the hours of opening and then the count on the following day in Portlaoise where he and his counterpart in Laois would manage the count until completion. He had two hobbies in his life and the first was as honorary member of the Tullamore Bridge Club he and his regular partner Roly O`Neill won many competitions around Ireland and represented Ireland abroad. He was installed as President of the Contract Bridge Association of Ireland in the Lake Hotel, Virginia Co. Cavan in 1962. His second love was GAA games and he never left his roots. He was chairman of Rhode GAA Club for many years and was a loyal supporter of the team arriving at a match with a football or refreshments for the team. His favourite players were Mick and Paddy Casey, Paddy McCormac, Eugene Mulligan and Seamus Darby. His love for the game gave him the pleasure of setting up the homecoming of the Offaly minor team after winning the All Ireland final in 1968. He also was chairman of the welcoming committee for the Offaly Senior Footballers in 1971 and 1972 with Sam Maguire.

James and Detta Ennis had five children: James M. (Fr. Hyacinth OFM), Michael (Kells), Rufina Recks (Clara), Barbara Canella (Montreal Canada), Patrick (died in Infancy) and was buried in Mucklagh Cemetery, a church of Rahan parish. His family home was on the Charleville Road in the parish of Rahan.

James was involved with the formation of the L.D.F. during the emergency. His life was based on community activities and he loved sport of all nature and was rewarded with success by all his children. His children were away at boarding school, when Jimmy Jnr. attending school at Gormanstown College announced he was joining the Franciscan order at their Novitiate in Killarney 1958. He took Hyacinth as his religious name, He was summoned home in 1959 on the news that his mother was critically ill. Detta Ennis died October of that year and was buried in Rhode Cemetery

Rufina and Barbara were at the Bridigine School in Mountrath and Michael was doing his leaving at CBS Tullamore. By 1961 James A. found the house on Charleville Road too big so he sold it to Dr Ted Vaughan and family and bought a bungalow on the Ardan Road where he remained until his death. Rufina married Richie Recks (Clara) in 1965 and James married Madeline Dunne, Rosenallis in 1966. He celebrated his son Hyacinth`s primary vows in Killarney 1959, his graduation at UCG and final vows in Galway 1962, his doctorate at Louvain Universary 1972 and ordination in Rome in March 1968. That same year in September Fr. Hyacinth assisted at the marriage of his brother Michael to Ina Kavanagh of Chapel street, Tullamore. In 1980 Barbara married Jose Canella (Montreal Canada) at Durrow Catholic church.

James Ennis enjoyed the addition of grandchildren to his family up to his death on the 5th March 1983 where he was laid to rest beside his first wife Detta in Rhode Cemetery. His  funeral mass was concelebrated by Fr Hyacinth Ennis and Fr Pat Fallon, PP, Tullamore  with  priests from Meath and Kildare and Leighlin diocese together with friars from the Franciscan Order.

Valerie Ennis wishes to acknowledge the assistance she received in writing this article from members of the Ennis family. Offaly History has fond memories of Mr Ennis during his time as treasurer of the Society in the 1970s and we recall meeting him for dinner with T.P. O’Neill, the author the Longford O’Neill biography. On that occasion Mr Ennis recalled seeing de Valera at the Mansion House in Dawson Street and later at UCD in the aftermath of the signing of the Irish Treaty in London. To him and his law firm partner, James Rogers (died 1967), the Society owes a debt of gratitude for their initiative in the late 1930s and steady support thereafter.